Got grit? Novice teachers with 'grit' stay longer, perform better

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Grit has worked its way into every cranny of the education debate, and it's no wonder. A bundle of explicitly non-cognitive traits associated with perseverance in the face of adversity, grit is inherently appealing to a country that aims to reward effort over mere ability.

But does grit matter for teaching and if so, how?

In 2009, Angela Duckworth, the MacArthur 'genius' prize-winning researcher who invented the concept of grit, published a preliminary study showing that teachers' self-reports on how gritty they were seemed to predict how much their (generally disadvantaged) students learned. But since one could readily imagine teachers inflating how gritty they were, the study's results could only be taken as suggestive.

Her latest study, True Grit: Trait-level Perseverance and Passion for Long-term Goals Predicts, co-authored with Claire Robertson-Kraft, addresses this issue by attempting to objectively measure teacher grittiness. The study applies a seven-point rubric to evaluate grit from information on extracurricular activities and work experience extracted from teachers' resumes, assigning points to teachers based on how long they stuck to an activity and how successful they were in it.

After analyzing 461 novice teacher resumes from an unnamed alternative certification program, the researchers found that teachers retained for the duration of a school year had higher grit ratings than teachers who resigned during the school year. Teachers who were rated effective in raising student performance also had higher grit scores than less effective teachers. By contrast, other characteristics of teachers -- demographic characteristics, SAT scores, college GPAs and ratings of leadership experience garnered from interviews -- were not associated with teacher retention or effectiveness.

As the authors themselves note, this was far from a typical sample of teachers-- they were all in an alternative certification program and had significantly higher SAT scores than the national average. Nonetheless, the findings certainly warrant further investigation into what non-cognitive traits predict the effectiveness of those who want to enter the classroom. 

Someday, perhaps, the grit score of an applicant to a teacher preparation program or school district will be just as important as his or her score on the SAT.